Methods and Tools to Improve Nursery Production Efficiency

Methods and Tools to Improve Nursery Production Efficiency


Nursery sustainability can be enhanced
by improving productivity and efficiency through proper nursery design and
maximizing uniformity in production. A strategy common
in many successful nurseries is to increase production efficiency
by specializing in a crop type. Most plants within a crop type have similar
fertilizer, water, pesticide and substrate needs. Another strategy for increasing
production efficiency is to grow plants in a limited number of container sizes
and use only one substrate. By focusing on two to four container sizes
and a single substrate, growers can adjust production and
management to optimize plant growth. Many different aspects of production
can be standardized including: production bench size,
irrigation schedules, potting machines pruning mechanization, shipping rack
systems, and other handling options. Finally, nurseries might grow only pest-tolerant or pest-resistant crops,
reducing pest management costs. Research and breeding efforts have
identified many species and cultivars that are less prone to pests than commonly
grown “standard” varieties or species. Examples are shrub roses resistant to
black spot and powdery mildew, crape myrtles resistant to powdery mildew
and Cercospora leaf spot, and Indian Hawthorn resistant
to Entomosporium leaf spot. On a larger scale, when designing a nursery
growers can implement several techniques to increase efficiency
or utilize topography to reduce environmental impacts
or influence production. For example,
at Athens Wholesale Nursery cold frames were designed to include
an aisle down the center of each house wide enough for a small tractor.
Although reducing production area, this layout significantly reduces
the distance plants have to be carried when pulling orders to be put on a trailer
and ultimately this reduces labor costs. Also, production beds at Athens Wholesale
Nursery are located on a slope and the grower uses microclimates up
and down the slope to affect finishing time by placing plants that will be sold later at
the bottom of the slope where cool air pools. This also allows the nursery to grow
specific types of plant material by placing tender plants at the top
of the slope where cool air drains away and placing plants requiring extended
cold at the bottom of the slope. Sometimes the use of low cost equipment
such as this fertilizer applicator employed by Athens Wholesale Nursery can save fertilizer,
time, labor costs and reduce worker strain. Even during shipping, practices can
be implemented to improve efficiency. In the case of Classic Groundcovers,
workers pack shipments in the field to insure uniformity of plant material,
reduce “pull” time for orders, and therefore reduce labor
involved in pulling and packing. Classic Groundcovers also utilizes
standardized shipping boxes adapted from the poultry industry.
Use of a mass-produced and standardized size box
reduces per unit cost of boxes by more than 50% as well as
streamlines the shipping process. In spite of an often high initial cost, technology offers many options
to improve production efficiency. The goal of many new technologies
is to reduce labor cost and adoption of these technologies continues
to increase as labor costs increase. From the beginning
of the production cycle, technology in the form of potting machines
has been developed to reduce labor, speed up the potting process
and increase uniformity of containers. A different variation of this
is the Ellepot system that utilizes wool fiber to encapsulate
peat in a propagation tray cell. This allows for
mechanized filling of trays and later in the production cycle,
rapid sorting of liners prior to shipping. A promising new irrigation technology
is wireless real-time soil moisture sensors. This technology can be used
to detect crop soil moisture levels and fully automate irrigation control,
resulting in lower labor costs while reducing irrigation volume
as much as 80%. Another irrigation system designed
to increase irrigation efficiency and uniformity while reducing labor costs
in propagation environments are boom misting systems, as seen here
at James Greenhouse in Colbert, GA. This technology utilizes
a leaf wetness sensor to determine when plants need to be irrigated
and is fully automated. Cart and conveyor systems, as seen
here at Riverview Flower Farms, can be used in the process of
pulling orders and assembling shipments to speed up the order assembly
while reducing worker fatigue. Robots offer another promising
technology that has the ability to reduce labor costs and worker fatigue
while increasing speed. In this case, a robot that moves and
spaces containers on a growing pad is being tested at Hackney Nursery
in Greensboro, Florida. Technology is not limited to container
producers. Southeastern Growers, Inc., in Watkinsville, GA, utilizes a Pazzaglia
tree spade in their harvesting process. This tree spade, while more expensive
than traditional tree spades, allows growers to plant trees on narrower row widths
resulting in more trees grown per acre. Use of this machine results in a smalller
size and weight of the ball and thus reduces fuel and other shipping costs.
It also reduces labor cost because this tree spade digs trees nearly
twice the speed as a ‘typical’ spade. With choices ranging from potting
machines to pot moving robots, as the cost of labor increases and
the availability of labor decreases, the incentive for nursery producers
to adopt methods and technology that improve production efficiency
and sustainability will only grow. To find additional information please refer to this document and others
which are available on the project website.

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